Encouraging a collective identity in the absence of organisational mechanisms

This extract from Andrew Chadwick’s The Hybrid Media System illustrates the difficulty which digital campaign groups face in sustaining mobilisation. Their power arises from their capacity to mobilise a diverse range of people, with little cost for either the organisation or the people themselves. But it follows from this that those mobilised have little inherent sense of identity and there’s often no obvious way for them to participate in the life of the campaign group. From pg 218:

A small advisory board comprising its original startup funders and some staff from other campaign organizations meets once a month for a couple of hours. 38 Degrees does not hold real-space conferences open to members and there are no formal bureaucratic means by which members can expect to influence the leadership’s decision making. The leaders even acknowledge that the decision to call those on its e-mail list “members” was a deliberate attempt to encourage a sense of shared identity in the absence of organizational mechanisms, though there is also an awareness that becoming a member of a political organization raises the bar too high for many, so they talk about people “being involved” or “joining in.”

The reliance upon digital infrastructure entails a separation between those who maintain that infrastructure when those who are mobilised through it. This is the shadow story underlying optimistic accounts of online activism as inherently democratic. In fact the reliance upon this infrastructure for mobilisation, at least when it runs through mass commercial social media platforms, means that other actors can inject their strategic concerns into the mobilisation process.

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